Paper or Plastic?

The recent decision by New York State to prohibit single-use plastic bags from retail stores makes it an ideal time to reexamine one of my favorite environmental quandaries. Plastic grocery bags were developed as a substitute for paper bags in the late 1970s. It was promoted as a way to save trees and prevent the cutting down of our forests.

The opinion that paper is superior to plastic for the environment is not really based on science or fact. It is based on misunderstandings about the way that plastic bags are made, how a landfill works and the assumption that non-biodegradable products are bad for the planet. 

But what about cotton bags? According to, they must be reused thousands of times before they equal the environmental performance of plastic bags. The Denmark researchers note that organic cotton is even worse than conventional cotton in relation to environmental impact. According to the article, organic cotton bags must be reused more times than conventional cotton bags based on the assumption that organic cotton has a 30% lower yield rate per acre than conventional cotton, and therefore was presumed to require up to 30% more resources like water, to grow the same amount. Everything we do, every bag, whether plastic, paper or cotton, has some kind of an impact on the environment.

But plastic bags are reusable. Some of the ways I reuse plastic grocery bags are as trash can liners, item storage and storing paint brushes for use the following day so they don’t dry out. With this ban, I will be forced to buy plastic bags for these purposes. So the ban on plastic bags will not reduce my use of plastic bags and will in fact create more waste and cost me money.

The discussion over the environmental impact of paper versus plastic has led to a number of life cycle assessment studies in Europe and North America. These evaluations show that regular plastic bags are much safer for the ecosystem than paper bags are.

In 2011, an Irish government research paper said that “it takes more than four times as much energy to manufacture a paper bag as it does to manufacture a plastic bag.” According to research, the manufacturing process also produces a greater amount of toxic chemicals when compared to making single-use plastic bags.

The Ontario Ministry of the Environment collected data that tracked the province’s plastic bag reduction program. It shows a 59.1% rate in the reduction in the use of plastic shopping bags. The United Kingdom’s Environmental Agency did a study of paper supermarket bags and found that they contribute three times as much to global warming than plastic shopping bags do.

A published Life Cycle Assessment, from EcoBilan, a division of Price Coopers Waterhouse, shows that in their manufacture, paper bags consumes over xxx times more energy than the manufacture of plastic bags. They also said that paper bag manufacture consumes over four times more water than the manufacture of plastic bags. Many studies agree that paper bags carry a substantial environmental impact in their manufacture that is not seen with plastic bags.

It is not easy to reuse paper bags because they have a tendency to tear and they get soggy when they get wet. Paper grocery bags are heavier than plastic bags. The typical plastic shopping bag weighs 0.28 ounces whereas a standard, 20 pound, Kraft paper, grocery bag weighs over 1¾ ounces. The largest and most significant result of changing from plastic to paper grocery bags will be the additional amount of volume and weight that paper bags will add to the solid waste stream. This additional amount will include a significant increase in the volume of greenhouse gas emissions that are generated to transport it to the landfills.

Plastic bags also play an unseen role in the conservation of the planet. In Canada, plastic bags are made from the ethane that is usually burned off during the natural gas refining process. Burning off this gas as opposed to using it to manufacture plastic bags also adds to the greenhouse gas in our atmosphere.

It takes only one truck to carry two million plastic bags but seven trucks to ship the same number of paper bags. The contrasts connected to plastic and paper strongly indicates why banning plastic bags won’t help. We are merely swapping one problem for another.

 Case in point, in 2006, Taiwan rescinded a ban on plastic bags in their fast food sector. The ban led to an increase in the use of paper bags with a substantial increase in waste management costs and greenhouse gas emissions. Nothing is without a downside.

To be honest, a plastic bag doesn’t create very many problems just sitting in a landfill. The problem comes about when people don’t throw away their bags appropriately and the bags end up flying around in the wild, obstructing waterways and becoming a threat to wildlife. Rather than banning plastic bags, maybe we just should take personal responsibility and dispose of them properly. It is a shame that the government has to pass laws to get us to do what we should.

An offer I couldn’t refuse: Chapter Two

Tony kept asking me to spend a weekend working down there and I kept refusing. Finally I told him it would be a while because I wanted to bring Donna, my wife, with me to see New York City and I needed to save up for plane fare and a nice hotel room. His reply was that he would pay for her plane fare and the hotel. My answer was how about next week?

On the flight down, I introduced Donna to all of the flight attendants. As we talked with them, I mentioned that Donna was involved in the planning for a bridal shower and asked if I could get some of their clear plastic on the rocks glasses. One of them said sure. They left and when they came back, they had two sleeves of glasses and a huge pile of napkins.

Donna didn’t like flying and was quite relieved when we landed. My hands were glad that the blood flow returned to them also. Nico and his girlfriend, Mia, picked us up at the airport and took us to the plant. I think Donna was further traumatized when she saw where I was working. While Nico and I worked Mia and Donna went shopping at a local mall. They also went for a visit to Mia’s parents house

After the day’s work was done, Nico took us to our hotel to drop off our luggage. Then we went on a night time, tour of New York. The first thing we hit was Chinatown where we went up a narrow stairway to a Chinese restaurant on the second floor.  We had an enjoyable meal and even though it was the very first time I used them, I turned out to be very proficient using chopsticks.

After dinner we went on a tour of the city. We went on the Stanton Island Ferry. And saw the Statue of Liberty. We ended up in the Bowery where a person “washed” our windshield by spitting on it and wiping it off with an old dirty rag. He then wanted a tip for this “service”. We also saw the Empire State Building. After our tour, we returned to our room and had a good night’s sleep. It was a long day.

 In the morning, Nico picked us up and we went back to Tony’s place for another day’s work where I picked up my pay for the weekend. Donna waited in the office anxious to get on the plane for the trip back home.

Once we were done for the day, we went back to the airport and flew home. Donna still didn’t like flying and my hands got crushed all the way back to Buffalo. Two weeks before the birth of my son, I finished my assignment with Tony and thought we were though. I was mistaken.

Shortly after that I got a call from Tony and he asked me to design some new acetators for him. We negotiated a price and I started drawing plans. I had studied Machine Design and Construction in school and actually had 5 years of drafting experience. I spent many nights at the kitchen table making several pages of drawings for him.

About a month later he called and told me he wanted me to work full time for him running a few of his businesses. By now I thought this was not a man you told no to and I didn’t want to be around when Mattia had to do his real job so I tried to set up a few roadblocks. I also didn’t want to be owned by this man and didn’t want to be put in a situation where he would ask me to take a “package” across town for him.

First off I told him that I had a young family and I needed to have medical insurance. His answer was that any medical bills I got I would give them to him and he would pay them in full. Damn. Next I told him I needed to find a place for us to live. He told me he had just the right house for us that he would get for me. He told me I could walk out my back door and I would be on the beach.

Running out of excuses I told him that I would need to move my stuff and would have to hire a moving company. I was scraping the bottom of the barrel for excuses.  He said not to worry. He had a friend in the moving business that would bring my stuff to my new home. He also said if I needed any more furniture, he would buy it for me.

I had one more roadblock left. I told him I liked where I was living and all of my family lived in Western New York. I expected another counter offer but he said he understood. That family was very important.

I never heard from him again. Up until now I haven’t told this story to anyone but a few close friends and family but I think that now, 45 years later, everyone involved was dead from one reason or another and it was safe to tell.

Norb is a writer from Lockport that has lived a very interesting life.

An offer I couldn’t refuse: Chapter One

I am sure most of us have taken on a few “side hustles” to make a bit of extra money beyond their regular job. I have had several of them from running my own handyman business for 35 years to helping Donna, my wife, run her bath products business that sold her lotions, potions and soaps internationally. But the most unusual side job ever I had involved working in place in New Jersey. I am not really sure what to call it because it wasn’t a factory, retail establishment or plant. I’ll leave what to call it up to you. I have changed the names to protect the innocent (me) but all relevant facts are true.

The adventure started in 1974. We had just recently found out my wife was pregnant with our third child and I was sitting on my couch with my family watching television when my phone rang. When I answered I heard this Marlon Brando, Godfather sounding voice on the other end.

“Hello, this is Tony Colombo” the voice said. “I hear you are pretty good at building acetators. I have three German made machines that I bought three years ago. They are all disassembled and sitting in my building on pallets and I can’t find anyone to assemble these. Do you think you can do it?’

First off, I was flattered that my reputation had proceeded me. I told Tony that I had no idea but if he was willing to pay me a generous wage and pay all my expenses I was willing to fly down and take a look. I love a good challenge.

The following weekend I flew to Newark airport where he had one of “nephews”, Nico, pick me up and drive me to his place of business. It was a typical slummy building in a slummy part of town. Steel doors no windows etc.

We parked in an alley and Nico let me in to the dark, dingy, musty smelling building. When he flipped on the lights it didn’t look much better. He took me down a short flight of stairs and showed me a pile of pieces that reminded me of a bowl full of elbow macaroni.

The only documentation they had was a German language, operator’s manual. Fortunately it had good illustrations because the only German I knew was the swear words my father would say when he was mad. None of these words were in the manual.

As I was assessing what I had gotten myself into Tony arrived with his driver, Mattia. Mattia came in first and did a quick sweep of the area before Tony came in. Tony shook my hand and asked me if I thought I could help him. I told him I wasn’t sure but if he was willing to give me a chance, I would try.

In our discussions, Nico told me that just because Tony socialized with organized crime figures, that didn’t mean he was a member of these families.

Thus began a nine month undertaking to build these machines. Every Sunday, I would go to Buffalo International Airport for an early flight to Newark. I went so often that my daughters told everyone that I worked at the airport on the weekends.

I flew so often that I got to know all the flight attendants and would have my first cup of coffee before we even took off. I felt like a rock star. There were a few times when I was the only passenger on the Boeing DC-9 aircraft. One time, as they were serving me my morning Danish, I asked what they did with the leftovers. The stewardess answered they threw them out. I handed her my carryon bag and told her to fill it up.

Every Sunday, Nico would pick me up at the airport and take me to the plant. He was my chauffeur and my helper. He was also my cook. He would take some football shaped rolls and cut them in half and rip the soft center out. Nico would then fry up some eggs with peppers and onions to stuff inside. Good lunch.

One day we were working on the second floor, setting up some tanks, when I looked out the window into the next building. The buildings were so close together that I could have closed their windows. There was a hooker there plying her trade. Nico said it happens all the time. Yeah it was that kind of neighborhood. I would call it a slum but that would be an insult to all the other slums in the world.

We worked hard assembling these machines and at the end of the day I would retrieve my pay and money for the next week’s airfare from a file cabinet. Cash, always cash. There were also other things in this cabinet. I discovered that there were three businesses listed as running from this site. There was a concrete and masonry supply company, and a restaurant equipment supply company. I don’t know where all the goods were stored for these companies because there was none of this where I was at.

I also discovered a copy of his annual net worth and it showed that he owned a home in Palm Springs Florida. The furnishings in this home were worth more than everything I owned. I also found out he was a board member of several banks. Yeah I am a snoop. Man, was this guy rich.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. (Merry Sickness and a Happy Penu-monia)

Life is filled with ironies. It was strange having an article published on Christmas Day about how much I enjoyed our traditions around the holidays. Odd that this would be in the paper seeing that December 2019 was one of the worst Decembers I have ever had. You see on December 19th I had a bad reaction to Benadryl that I was given via my chemo port.

My right hand started twitching and shortly afterward my left hand joined in. Soon my legs started and finally I was flopping around in the recliner I was sitting in like a fish out of water. If I would have had the foot rest down, I swear I would have ended up on the floor. When the nurse came over, there was a look of panic on her face. She stopped the Benadryl drip immediately and started a saline flush. Then my Oncologist came over and told me that he had been practicing over 30 years and had never seen anyone have an adverse reaction to Benadryl, an antihistamine used to relieve symptoms of an allergic reaction.

They called for an intensive care ambulance that took me to Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital where they gave me a cat scan of my brain to see if the twitching could have been caused by my cancer metastasizing in that area, but the scan didn’t show any. They also x-rayed my lungs to check for Pneumonia.  Again all clear. We got home from Millard Fillmore Suburban late that night.

Then on December 24th, I went to ENH (Eastern Niagara Hospital). You know you have been to the hospital too much when you go to sign in and the person at the admissions desk knows your name. I was diagnosed with pneumonia and admitted. I spent 8 days flat on my back with an IV and oxygen shoved up my nose. I missed the Christmas Eve family celebrations and the Christmas Day get-togethers that I love so much.

Finally, on January first, I was released to go home. I am now walking around dragging a blue hose that is hooked up to an oxygen machine and am now limited to living in just the downstairs of my home.

Eastern Niagara Hospital has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, according to hospital officials. We are so blessed to have a small local hospital right here in our community. I understand that they are having trouble overcoming a number of the financial burdens that were incurred over the past ten years. I hope they are able to emerge from this without closing.  

According to, hospitals have been closing at a rate of about 30 a year. In every year since 2011, more hospitals have closed than opened.

 I will say that each and every one of the staff members at ENH were professional, pleasant and took the time to explain everything to me.  Many of the nurses, aides etc. knew me from previous visits and even when they weren’t assigned to me, they would stop by just to say hi.

I would mess with dietary by taking components from other dishes and combining them to make a new dish not on the menu. One breakfast I had them make me a breakfast sausage sandwich by combining a bulky roll, a sausage patty, a fried egg and a slice of cheese. Bam! New meal “off the menu”.

For dinner they offered pasta with grilled chicken or meatballs. I had them put down a bed of Rotini, a couple of smashed meat balls, a layer of cottage cheese, a slice of provolone cheese and some Marinara sauce on top “Deconstructed Lasagna”. It was good.

Dietary finally got even with me though one day. I ordered 2 pancakes, 3 syrup and a chocolate milk for breakfast, making a remark about a 5 year old’s breakfast. When I lifted the lid, there they were, Mickey Mouse pancakes. This made my day.

Some rural hospital closures are strategic decisions that are the result of mergers and acquisitions but others are caused by the inability to stay profitable says I have been to a few large hospitals and a few small “rural” ones and it seemed like you were just a number at the big hospitals. Patients who live far from major cities might be left with even fewer hospital choices says the American Hospital Association.

One of the reasons I bought my house where I did was because the hospital is only a half block away from me. If you look out the back of ENH you can see my home.  This has worked out quite well for me. Whenever I would injure myself at home, I would just walk over to the ER.

If ENH closes, I would have to drive 16 miles (or about 30 minutes according to to get to Millard Fillmore Suburban. Even if I was to cut this time in half by taking an ambulance, a lot of bad stuff can happen in 15 minutes.

Baby its Cold 0utside

Holiday .
The song ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside” ‘ is seen as In the current era, and is being banned by some radio stations. The radio stations have stopped playing that classic song because it has lyrics that suggest rather than proposing an innocent situation of while being snow bound. SMH.
As long as we are eliminating everything that could offend the , I have a few more suggestions.
I think we should ban “ ” by Bing Crosby because this might offend people. We also need to eliminate “ Is in the Winter Night” by Enya” and “The World of Winter” by Bing Crosby for the same reason.
There are many, many songs that reference that should be forbidden because many religions in . They have their own . In fact the very name should not be permitted just because of the part. This word might offend the people, the . The . The and the followers of .
Now I see that there some “ ” movies that people want to ban. The first of which comes to mind is the classic Rankin/Bass holiday offering “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.” They want to ban this because an throws the out of the sleigh even though mentioned that . Then there is that with , the deer who are towards Rudolph, the dentist and the toys from The Island of Toys.
While we are at it let’s look at a few more Christmas classics. We have “A Story”. It’s just not in America unless there’s a hungry child in a marathon. And how about washing your mouth out with ? Oh fudge, that is ! But was the norm back then. I am old enough to have this myself. Good times.
Then we have the movie “How the Stole ”. I think it is very insensitive to call him a . Clearly he has . Notice isn’t there even one person in all of Whoville. Then be aware of the fact that they didn’t actually accept the until he gives everyone presents! Looks like to me. And what about making that poor wear a heavy antler and pulling that giant sleigh. Someone call .
The movie “ ” features, , and a father his son. “Frosty the Snow ” has the magician Professor Hinkle attempting to Frosty by him in a greenhouse where Frosty is .
“Home ” is about a who is accidently home during the holidays by when the rest of his family goes to Europe. I think being by your parents is a bit of a problem.
I see that some people are trying to prohibit all related symbols in the schools and have suggested a ban on a list of themed items in the hopes of being inclusive and culturally sensitive to all of the students.
A list of the suggested items would include the singing of . Even the on the is on the hit list because that’s a related symbol. I think some people are spending more time working on these lists than they are taking time trying to understand diversity.
We now can’t see scenes on governmental land due to “the separation of church and state” activists. Wal-Mart has switched its banners to “Happy Holidays” from ” “. It is Wal-Mart’s and other retailer’s participation in the moneymaking side of that is the real attack on this beloved holiday. One more time, the have co-opted a cultural tradition that most have enjoyed.
Enough is enough! I think I am old enough to decide on my own which movies I watch and which music I listen to. I love watching the old movies and listening to the old songs. I love sharing them with my grandchildren. I will always wish you a no matter who you are or what you believe. is the Holiday I celebrate. If you want to respond or because that’s what you celebrate, I promise not to be offended in fact I may respond in kind with your religious preference. I welcome your heritage as well as my own. Instead of us getting offended by each other, why don’t we just try to get along? This is supposed to be the season of peace on earth and good will towards men no matter what you believe, not the season of hate and discontent.
In closing, I will wish you a , Happy , Happy or a season, whatever works for you, from my home to yours.
Norb has a blog at you can follow there

Never let the facts get in the way of a good opinion

We all have opinions about things and if it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t have very much to write about. We typically have an assortment of personal feelings. They can be formed with a complete lack of logic or reason that facts can never penetrate.

The process of repeatedly passing information from person to person can result in the unintentional formation of our beliefs. Our minds are hard-wired to categorize information and create mental shortcuts. This helps us to organize knowledge using a minimum of mental effort. It also provides us with a needed sense of structure to cope with an otherwise messed up world.

There are the famously opinionated “Monday morning quarterbacks” who will analyze every game and every play. They will tell you what the local sports team did wrong and how they would have played it. We have the Trump supporters and those that think he should be impeached. We also have the people that are religious and that know they are in the one faith that will get you to Jannah, Nirvana, Canaan, Elysium or whatever you call Heaven. Never argue with these people because it is a waste of time.

From time to time we might ask other people about their stance on an issue even if we don’t agree with them. Forming new beliefs to add to the ones you already have might interest you. Of course this doesn’t mean you can’t change your mind. Changing your outlook is a sign of personal growth, having an open mind and the willingness to see other sides of an issue.

The sound of two opposing thoughts clashing can be very exciting. This can cause the development of intense debates in a frantic attempt to support your own existing philosophies. In my humble opinion, it seems very unlikely that there will ever be a shortage of opinions because most people have at least one well founded viewpoint based on personal experience plus four or five others about things they know absolutely nothing about. This is evident whenever you hear a person watching the Bills on television, offering a bar stool assessment on who should coach the team and how.  

I question all the opinions I now hear. Whenever I hear a new one, I handle it with skepticism, I check to see where it came from and listen it to see if it is ticking before I open it. Once it appears there is no problem, I fact check it and if it fails, I file the view point in the circular filing cabinet.

Working out which ideas are worthy of consideration and which are outright lies is now a full-time job as “fake news” is now used to undermine many assumptions. If the theory promoted seems to be from someone who has some expertise in the subject I will listen.

Convictions can be dangerous and having an incorrect belief might ruin your reputation. Voicing your opinion at the wrong time can also make you appear foolish. The old adage attributed to Abraham Lincoln goes, “It’s better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt,” and that seems to still hold true today.

However, when you hide your convictions to yourself, this can actually be more harmful than expressing them. As a matter of fact, opposing ideas are what fuel forward motion. Stating your opinion might make you appear more confident. Confidence never has been a bad thing to have.

A common reason that people may hold back on their thoughts is the thinking that their conviction doesn’t matter or that they won’t be listened to. For example, if a person is troubled by a new company policy, they could hold their tongue because they think that they will be labeled a troublemaker. Nevertheless, you may have a valid point. If you speak up, you might make a difference.

Even if your point of view isn’t taken seriously, what you mentioned can still encourage an important debate.  The argument you make may not have been thought of up until then. If you offer a possible solution it may still be decided that your idea isn’t worth investigating. But your opinion might encourage some new perspectives about the subject. Discussion frequently precedes results and the more thoughts that are promoted in a discussion the better and quicker you might see results.

If you’re wrong, you’re wrong. Perhaps your outlook is invalid, or that you think that there’s something “off” about it. If you want to find out just state it. The other people around you will let you know. If you are wrong admit it and don’t beat a dead horse. None of us is perfect.

You might express what everyone else is thinking but just too afraid to say. Occasionally people are afraid to state their views because they don’t think they are valid. If you voice your position, you might just present an idea that everyone can agree on.

But that’s just my opinion.

An old friend

An old buddy stopped by my house the other day. He came over because I got in touch with him due to a series of challenges I had personally taken on. This task was to contact an old friend. Just connecting with him was an undertaking because he had dropped his land line which was the only phone number I had for him. I checked his Facebook page to no avail but finally found his brother’s number. I talked to his sister-in-law who gave me his new cell number. Now we were cooking.

I have known him for over four decades. Donna and I used to go to his home on weekends to go swimming in his pool. He and I had built a deck off the back of his house. This had a platform that overhung the side of the pool for diving. We used to have cookouts for dinner and the two of us would go out to a farmer’s field and pick corn for roasting. I hadn’t seen this buddy in quite a few years so we spent about two hours catching up with each other.

We talked about the weather and the recent wind storm. If you are from Western New York, you always talk about the weather. I showed him our new bedroom addition on the back of our house and he loved it. He appreciated the fact that it looked as if it has been there forever. He liked the floors, the en-suite bathroom with a walk in shower and elevated toilet. He loved the walk in closet, the pocket door, the number of outlets I had the electrician put in (22 of them in the bedroom alone) and even the magnetic doorstop. I put in a lot of thought when I was designing this space.

His son has now grown and has given him a grandson and his son lives just around the corner from my son, small world. My buddy is a very proud grandfather. His grandson is as cute as can be and looks just like his father. We told him about the exploits of our own grandchildren, discussed our children and many other things.

We talked about banks and online banking (he is for it, I’m not). According to the FDIC, the national average interest rate on savings accounts currently stands at 0.09% so I don’t see any compelling reason to keep money in a bank.

He is a Vietnam Era veteran just like I am but we didn’t discuss politics. Politics and religion are the two subjects I refuse to discuss.

We chatted about what we were doing now. About how I blog and write articles for newspapers and even get a few of them published internationally. I told him about the article I had written, a sarcastic piece on the song “Baby it’s cold outside” and the radio stations that refused to play this classic winter song. It caused such a turmoil that I no longer write for the online paper where it was first published. However, it was distributed elsewhere without a problem. This song has gotten a politically correct remake this year by John Legend and Kelly Clarkson.

My buddy now drives a school bus and boy, did he have a few stories to tell! My wife asked him about passing a stopped school bus and did she ever hit a hot button! He told us about the people that blast past his bus as he is discharging kids and indicated his experience was not uncommon. We must have chatted about this subject for at least a half an hour.

According to the New York State DMV website, a majority of school bus related injuries and deaths happen when children are crossing the street after being dropped off by the bus, not by collisions involving school buses. There is nothing you are doing, there is no place you are going, that is worth injuring a child.

He wasn’t aware that a mutual friend of ours had passed so we informed him about it. It’s sad how we lose track of our friends and loved ones over the years. I also updated him on another person, Ed, which we both knew. We go out to dinner with Ed monthly.

Our twin grandsons were spending the day at my house due to the schools being closed and were playing upstairs but you wouldn’t know it. I called them down to the living room and they introduced themselves and shook my buddy’s hand. After they went back up to play, my buddy remarked what polite, well behaved young men they were.

Our visit was very, very enjoyable and when he left it was like we hadn’t lost any time at all. Unfortunately, he had to leave and go do his afternoon bus run. I hope he comes over again soon and often. Next time I encourage him to bring his son, his son’s wife and of course, his grandson.